Original draft April 14, 2017
The election of Donald J. Trump was traumatic on the body politic. Some of us are still mentally retching and have great difficulty believing that the electorate could have been so taken in by lies and hyperbole. Nonsense just didn’t seem to matter. Media was dazzled by the orange hair and unable to see it for all of the phoniness it represented; yet remains almost completely baffled by the bullshit. It may well be that too many of the broadcast media live in an unreal world masked by makeup and hair style.
The talking heads didn’t have a clue as to what they should do. The ethos of the candidate(s) and that of the pundits were discovered to be in bed with one another. The characteristic spirit of our democracy and culture was ripped. Substantive debate about important issues devolved to trivial pursuit limited to 140 characters. Opposition vocabulary seemed stuck on the likes of fascist, dictator, totalitarian, oligarchy intended to scare rather than illuminate. Relations with Russia dominated both fear of egregious interference with our democracy and hope that revelations would confirm that Trump’s victory, however flawed with the electoral college, could be remedied with impeachment.
Well it has all happened and closing in on 100 days of the Trump presidency with all of the missteps and dangerous blunders and reverses revealing the president’s moral illegitimacy and incompetency, have illuminated fractures that require reduction and some serious bandages resembling heavy plaster casts. Straightening out the broken limbs of our country is the real task of restoring something resembling greatness.
Economics, education and environment are at least as messed up in the Trump era as they were during previous administrations going back well before Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon. Deregulation, reform of the tax code and remaking of education have been cries from the right for more than four decades and nothing resembling progress has emerged regardless of which party holds power.
It does seem like something is different now. Democrats are gulping for breath and mostly still looking to 2018 and 2020 to reverse the anticipated damage. They may have a shot at gaining some advantage, but i don’t think that just another cycle of who’s on top in a battle to screw each other is good for the environment, education or the economy. Democrats should cooperate with elements of the Republican party, including Trump’s acolytes, to sculpt a new statute that leverages the conservative and even libertarian views to actually bring about progressive changes that reverse intolerance, inequity, and ignorance. Realities didn’t go away just because Republicans hold power.
Roads and bridges are deteriorating, robots are fully employed as fast as they are engineered and manufactured, big data are stored, mined for minute detail, and retrieved at accelerating pace and plummeting costs, dangerous ideologues are sticking it to commercial media faster than a free press can counter the culture of always-on cable with it breathless exaggerations. Meanwhile majority Christians and minority muslims along with all manner of splinter sects, hide their heads in prayer hoping to engage a higher power they can trust more than they can trust democracy, open government, a market economy, and good old-fashioned good will.
Education may be an answer if we could get our hearts and minds around what education is and should be. Unfortunately we still use education without thought, which seems paradoxical. Education and thinking seem to be such a natural pairing. It may be that what really needs to change, and change soon, is to change the way we think about a whole lot of things; and especially education. Education is about changing lives and changing minds. If we keep doing the same things about and for education that we have been doing for over a century we are indeed, to paraphrase Einstein, dealing with a form of social insanity.
Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, is a very, very rich socially nice person, well connected to the Heritage Foundation and with an agenda for education that scares the hell out of the existing education establishment of administrators, teachers and their associated travelers in unions and commercial enterprises in and out of our schools, colleges and universities. She is hardly qualified as an educator. But then who is? Everyone is qualified and no one is qualified. We have to become socially nice and our schools are not very nice to even the really rich. In fact, the really rich don’t like our schools and take non-schooling steps to assure a great education for their children, employees and themselves.
This morning Elizabeth Warren included the following paragraph in a letter sent over her signature to an AlterNet mailing list:
We need you in this fight, because let’s be clear: The Republicans are still coming after the Affordable Care Act. They’re still coming after Wall Street reform and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They’re still coming after Planned Parenthood, and our environmental protections, and public schools, and Social Security, and a zillion other things that help level the playing field for working families.
Now Elizabeth Warren is a very bright woman and would have been a much better candidate against Trump than was Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders AND Elizabeth Warren would have very likely prevented a Trump victory, although with his support from Russia, we can hardly be sure of that. Warrens use of “a zillion” is obvious hyperbole, but the items listed are enough for concern, especially when each is taken apart to list details about anticipated changes; changes that are both desirable and undesirable. Unfortunately with the media tendency for breathless announcements of controversy and their own hyperbole, it is not an easy task to identify what each side is really after in the way of change.
- Affordable Care Act — provided health insurance coverage for millions but still left millions without insurance. Drug prices are still excessive and big pharma is just raising prices beyond imagination or control. Profits don’t show up on books when they are either diverted overseas or used to purchase patents and.or whole companies. Medical facility costs including medical devices are uncontrolled and, of course, the industry makers and shakers are doing what they can do to resist change.
- Wall Street Reform — Dodd-Frank was put in place to prevent another meltdown like that which happened in 2008. With the repeal of Glass-Steagall the big bucks went after consumer banking to pad the vaults of the investment banks. Business abuse is endemic in a competitive economy where greed is rewarded. Until there are moral disincentives for unlimited wealth accumulation we will continue to live with a “greed is good” philosophy of corporate hegemony over our business and economic life.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — abuse of consumers is built into the fabric of the economic system prized in virtually all western democracies. Fair trade and free trade hardly ever fit well into the same sentence, especially when applied at a local level. Consumer beware has real meaning. Although it must also be said that local business men and women are much less able to cheat and stay in business than are the multinational conglomerates. Mergers and acquisitions have dramatically challenged and changed the local landscapes for meeting consumer demands. The Walmarts of the world have quite literally kicked the stuffing out of local merchandisers of the usual and customary needs of households. The ubiquitous uses of credit cards has managed to lock out loan-sharks at the local level and replace them with multinational banks wielding leg-breaking interest on too many consumers. And if you think these multinational banks are morally OK, then at least you may see some immorality in the form of the payday lenders. Crime wears a white collar.
- Planned Parenthood — planning for reproduction is anathema to male-dominated religious organizations. Planning parenthood has become a euphemism for abortion rights. Changing the name and of this organization is long overdue. What does Planned Parenthood provide that local medical clinics could not or do not provide. Safe abortion is needed when conception is not prevented. There is some personal responsibility attached to sexual intercourse but a network of knowledge may be a much better solution than a national network of conspicuous clinical enterprise. Delivery of reproductive resources could, and probably will, take alternative pathways that are still safe and effective.
- Environmental Protections — the Environmental Protection Agency was an important response to egregious air, water and soil pollution by unchecked and irresponsible industrial practitioners. EPA regulators attempted to administer laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act but the agency has become so bloated with bureaucrats and bogged down with their own weight that responding to reasonable guidelines and reconciliation of industrial initiatives has become too complex for effective management. The EPA managers are struggling with issues that should be, or should have been, turned into law or amendments to law under a legislative regime rather than endless bureaucratic debate. Legislators must stand-up to meet the original aims of the Nixon administration rather than kiss up to industry.
- Public Schools — there is almost no doubt that our public schools are not meeting the needs of some children and that is tragic regardless of the numbers and the economic, racial, ethnic, geographic or other categories into which those numbers may be divided and allocated for research and management purposes. The trouble with public schools is that they are schools and schooling is not an exclusive way for education to be supported, promoted and evaluated. Education is fundamentally about living in society with sufficient skills to contribute and to become a self-actualizing spirit unencumbered by religious dogma or irrational social constraints on freedom. Liberal and liberty have the same lexical roots that individual education, not schools, should honor. Schools that are either conservative or progressive are out of line with a reasonable, rational, pluralistic, integral social design of education. Our conversation about schools must become focused on questions rather than ideological “answers.” What is needed is not answers but innovation.
- Social Security — the social safety net is needed by way too many people and still does not provide an adequate standard of living for a tragic number of people in the twilight of their lives. Means testing has been linguistically bastardized beyond recognition with a false sense that what we all “socially” pay into a fund for the protection of the security of the have-nots of society is somehow OUR personally banked money. It is no more our money that is the money we pay to the federal government as taxes to support fighter jets and aircraft carriers. Try calling in an aircraft fleet to protect your home. Good luck! The Social Security Fund is and should be kept solvent by everyone paying into it with a small fixed percentage of all that is earned income no matter how that income may be parsed among salaries, capital gains or any other income category. There should be no escape from a tax to provide security in old age and when disabling injury or disease strikes.
Personally, I would really like to see some worthwhile changes in each of these items. I think there are good and substantial reasons for making changes. There is an old adage that the potential for change is great if you don’t care who receives credit. Our biggest troubles can be lumped into two categories. One is that political parties want credit in order to appease and mollify their voter base, and the other is that there is a huge ideological gap between Republicans and Democrats. Their belief systems are really different. Progressive ideals and conservative ideals are incorrigibly different. In other words no matter how much change is needed, it is not going to happen with such extreme polarization and we, Republicans and Democrats and Independents, especially independents, are screwed. Media tries to make meaning but also has to make money. Conflict and controversy makes better stories that sell. Hold that thought, we’ll be back in a minute.
It is actually and positively time to change. Time to change our language and time to change the way we speak to one another. We have had enough discourse, declaration, debate, discussion. What we need is serious dialogue and dialogue means that we begin by asking questions in order to learn. Dialogue resembles respectful conversation. With dialogue we grow our knowledge in ways that really matter and that bring meaning to our lives. When it comes to social issues we must begin with a frank and open admission that we are profoundly ignorant and that there is no omniscient or omnipotent force from the digital or metaphorical, metaphysical cloud that will magically make a difference. In the end it will be up to us, all of us, to change the way we think. The time for that change is now.